Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Space – A Place of Ministry

Written by: on May 15, 2015

Our reading for this week, Social Geographies: Space and Society, has provided some provocative insights on concepts of space and place in society. For someone unread on the subject of social geography, the author, Gill Valentine with her first words creates a sense of expectancy: “Social geography is an inherently ambiguous and eclectic field of research and writing.”[1]As I tried to understand social geography as a discipline, I sought out a couple more clarifying definitions. According to the book of knowledge, Wikipedia, Social geography refers “… to the special constitution of society on the one hand, and the special expressions of social processed on the other.”[2] An informative dictionary definition is “The study of the interaction between human beings and their environment in particular places and across spatial areas.”[3]

A quick perusal of the table of contexts and the excellent index gives a perception of the depth and breadth of social geography as an academic discipline. I find the vocabulary used by social geographers to very nuanced in their research and writing within the discipline. The author provides a helpful glossary but not nearly comprehensive. One such term is the word and concept of “space.” The concept of space is not new in our readings. MaryKate Morse in “Making Room for Leadership” exposed how as leaders, we exert power and influence through the space we occupy. She clarified that “making room” is giving and occupying space and how we utilize our space will determine our success as leader. In Consuming Faith, Vincent Miller advocated the significance of space in developing genuine faith in a consumer society. The practices of a consumer society occupy life to such an extent that there is little space left for the practice of faith. Specifically, Milled advocated for space where clergy and parishioner could exist together for faith formation and sharing.

Space according to Valentine, is an organizing principle; historically space was “understood as the container of relations and events.”[4] There has been a significant shift as social geography has engaged the postmodern concepts of diversity and openness. In the context of an open and fluid society, Valentine notes how this applies to the changing idea of space:

Each chapter of this book focuses on how a space, from the body to the nation, is invested with certain meanings, how these meanings shape the way these spaces are produced and used, and, in turn, how the use of these spaces can feed back into shaping the way in which people categorize others and identify themselves. In other words, space and society do not merely interact with or reflect each other but rather are mutually constituted.[5]

This is an important concept in reading through the different “scales” (another nuanced concept) that define the meaning and use of space. Space itself is not structured; rather space becomes identified through what Valentine refers to as “performative” activity that challenges fixed identity resulting is space being “multiple, contested, and fluid…”[6] Perfomativity becomes an important concept in how we identify people groups and the space they occupy. I see this as particularly significant in understanding culture and community. The church’s failure to recognize this social phenomenon has/will lead to misunderstanding and the inability to be relevant in contemporary culture. Valentine cites what would be a nonthreatening example of the fluidness of space. She tells about how the invention of a “homeless vehicle”[7] impacted the space of homeless people. The vehicle “enabled homeless people to carve out a space for themselves within the exclusionary landscape of the city and to challenge definitions of ‘community’”[8]

I say the homeless vehicle is nonthreatening because the vehicle empowers a marginalized space (people) in our society, something that would generally be welcomed. But what about other “hot button” issues in our contemporary society such as the citizenship for illegal immigrate, gay and lesbian civil rights or the legalization of drugs. All of these issues concern matters of empowerment that significantly change the boundaries of space and impact on what might be considered established identities within culture and community.

Social Geographies is packed with concepts that relate to how we exist in a changing social context. One nice thing is that any chapter or sub-chapter can be accessed independently of other chapters (that is, once you have the nuanced vocabulary under control). It is a wealth of understanding of how we live and minister in a local context. My focus this week has been on neighborhood, community and collaborative ministry initiatives. As such, Social Geographies is very appropriate.  However, my time to read has been limited this past week and I will need to return to this study. I spent four activity filled days at the “Reconciliation and Justice Academy” in Atlanta Georgia (http://www.churchonthestreet.com/#/practical-theology/the-academy) . It is interesting that this forum is centered on space, both as collaborative ministry and as space relates to community effort through specific ministry initiatives in multiple and diverse neighborhoods


Personally, I a m left a little “un-fulfilled” with the reading this week. So much more yet to understand and grasp! I am excited, intrigued, and almost overwhelmed by the possibilities of ministries enhanced by understanding the significance of space and making space a place where we minister the Good News.

Centerform spaceCenterform room space

[1] Gill Valentine, Social Geographies: Space and Society (Harlow, England.: Routledge, 2001), 1.

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “Social geography,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,  http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Social_geography&oldid=651382351 (accessed May 14, 2015).

[3] “Human Geography,” Dictionary.com. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/human geography (accessed: May 14, 2015

[4] Valentine, Ibid., 3.

[5] Ibid., 5.

[6] Ibid., 4.

[7] Ibid., 9.

[8] Ibid., emphases mine.

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7 responses to “Space – A Place of Ministry”

  1. Ron,

    Thanks for your post. I like the way you connect our other readings to this week’s reading. That was helpful. I found this to be a tough, academic read this week, but there are some things that I think were helpful that I will refer back to. I like the concept of “social geographies.” I am just a bit new to this study, to these concepts.

    My post might have missed the point of this week’s reading altogether, but it was the best I could do with what I read and understood. I will be curious to read responses.

    • rhbaker275 says:

      I totally agree. As a learning/research discipline, social geographies has its own unique vocabulary. This is always a little challenging but I love this aspect of our course of study. It is just that there is not enough time to really do each read/subject justice. I do want to understand social theology – I see it as enlightening on concepts/practices in social theology, even our study last week by Chan on grassroots theology.

      Thanks, Bill

  2. John Woodward says:

    Ron, thanks for your helpful insights and further definitions of this very confusing subject! I was both intrigued and a little disappointed with the book (much like you were). I think the concept has merit, but it seemed that Valentine was trying to be all things to all people, to cover so many topics and territory, that it left me a little more than confused and unsure of what the real point of it was. Had the study been more focused on one or two, or even four or five specific situations that could have been case studies, that might have made a more helpful read. But, the encyclopedic nature of the book left me also a little unfulfilled. (Also, early on, I too thought of MaryKate Morse’s book.) I would like to think there is value for the church in understanding how our environment (be it church, city or community) can contribute to our well-being — which is often the reason that we so social services and engage in missionary efforts that go beyond simply proclaiming the Good News.

    Thanks for your great thoughts and insights, Ron!

    • rhbaker275 says:

      Thanks, John,

      Actually, when I referenced being “un-fulfilled” in reading Valentine’s book on social geography, I was referencing my lack of time to do the reading justice. I actually really think the subject has merit for sure and can bring clarity (that is cross-reference) in understanding many other areas of our research. I will tell you how well I like the book and want to get to a deeper read: I did not want to pay $75 for the book, so the great GFES library had the book to me in twenty-four hours. After reading and discovering what I felt to be a worthwhile study, I went ahead and bought the kindle – $65.

      I love the writing on community and the city. Not because I agree with everything she write, rather it adds depth and perspective to my studies. I might include the introductory and the community chapters as a part of my research bibliography. So much to learn!

  3. Ron,
    I am with our colleagues in appreciation for the manner in which you were able to draw from and distill key insights and purpose. Very cool that you were able to go to the Reconciliation and Justice Academy this past week (have you heard of the work Duke is doing w/ their Reconciliation program?). And thank you for including the photo. Interesting isn’t how space is utilized differently within that area? Some of it conveys the message of work – within small groups, other spaces are clearly for conversation (and non-threatening ones at that since chairs are side by side rather than across from one another) and convey welcome in different ways. How settling it is to know what a space’s purpose is for. Blessings Ron!

  4. rhbaker275 says:

    Thanks for your comments. The Reconciliation and Justice Academy was great. A part of their work in Atlanta is “The Neighborhood Initiative.” (http://www.centerform.org/about/) (http://joineiro.com/what-we-do-3) This is the area of my research studies and I anticipate some on-going connection with the leaders.

    Yes, I am acquainted with Duke’s Center for Reconciliation. They have a series of books entitled “Resources for Reconciliation.” I have several of the books; they also have a summer program that would be great to attend … alas (sigh), not possible.

  5. Michael Badriaki says:

    Ron, great job on your blog. I agree with you about the challenges that might lay within the discussion about ministry and space. The “build it and they will come” model has probably seen it’s share of trials. There was a sense of hesitation with building and acquiring buildings. I wonder what’s next.

    Along with you, I am interested in “… understanding the significance of space and making space a place where we minister the Good News”

    Thank you

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